Maps show iceberg the size of Las Vegas breaking off from Antarctica


A huge iceberg the size of Las Vegas has broken off from an Antarctica ice shelf.

Maps created with GPS equipment show the 235-mile-long iceberg breaking off from the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is 500-feet thick. The British Antarctic Survey said the break occurred in the early hours of Monday after a crack suddenly appeared in the ice shelf a few weeks ago.

The break-off is the third major iceberg calving in this area in the past four years and took place around a decade after scientists at the British Antarctic Survey first detected the growth of vast cracks in the ice.

A map shows a huge iceberg the size of Las Vegas breaking off from an ice shelf in Antarctica. It is the third calving to occur in the area in four years.

British Antarctic Survey

The calving is not thought to be linked to climate change, the British Antarctic Survey said.

Rising sea and air temperatures caused by climate change, as well as surface melting, are contributing to a greater amount of ice loss, many scientists believe, and are thought to contribute to the calving of ice that forms icebergs.

But Oliver Marsh, a glaciologist who has spent four seasons working on the Brunt Ice Shelf, said none of these factors appear to have caused the break.

“Calving of these large icebergs is usually not an indicator of climate change,” he told Newsweek. He said the most recent calving was “expected.”

“This iceberg broke off because of the movement of the ice shelf towards a fixed point on the seafloor, known as the McDonald Ice Rumples,” he said. “Over time, this created a bending stress in the ice to the north of Halloween Crack, which increased until it exceeded a critical value. This process is not unusual.”

Marsh added that the break-off has reduced the total area of the ice shelf to its “smallest extent since monitoring began.”

“Tabular iceberg calving is part of the natural behavior of ice shelves but often causes large changes in ice shelf geometry and can impact local ocean circulation,” he said. “Our science and operational teams continue to monitor the ice shelf in real time to ensure it is safe.”

Meanwhile, Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey told Newsweek that the iceberg could impact the safety of a penguin colony in the area.

“The Halley Bay emperor penguin colony recently relocated into the mouth of the Halloween Crack, so the calving of the new iceberg which formed one side of that crack will seriously impact the stability of the sea ice on which those penguins breed,” he said.

“Whether this less stable sea ice will remain intact long enough for the birds to raise their chicks remains to be seen, but we will be monitoring it closely by satellite from now until December when the young birds fledge,” Fretwell said.

Adrian Luckman, a geography professor at the U.K.’s Swansea University, who studies Antarctic ice shelves, said it is “concerning” that three iceberg calvings have occurred in the past four years.

“Antarctica’s floating ice shelves grow gradually by ice flow and shrink episodically by iceberg calving. The balance between these two processes impacts their ability to hold back ice on land,” he said.

“It is concerning therefore that even in this relatively cold sector of Antarctica there have now been three large iceberg calvings in the last three to four years. The Brunt Ice Shelf is providing plenty of data to help us understand the calving process and predict the future evolution of these important ice bodies.”

sea ice
A stock image shows sea ice in Antarctica. Rising sea and air temperatures caused by climate change, as well as surface melting, are contributing to a greater amount of ice loss in Antarctica.

ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS

In November 2023, one of the largest icebergs in the world—roughly five times the area of New York City—broke off from Antarctica after being stuck to the seafloor for 30 years.

A23a, which has an area of 1,500 square miles, broke away from the icy southern land mass in 1986 but became grounded in the Weddell Sea, which sits to the south of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

It had been drifting for several years before it moved beyond the Antarctic Peninsula last year into the southern Atlantic. Seven months earlier, an iceberg measuring around 1,158 square miles in area—around four times the size of New York City—drifted away from Antarctica.

Icebergs are one of several forms of ice sheet loss that contribute to rising sea levels. Between 1992 and 2018, ice lost in Antarctica and Greenland raised sea levels by seven-tenths of an inch.

Marsh said: “Whilst the iceberg is big, in terms of Antarctica as a whole it is quite small, and as it is already floating it doesn’t have a direct impact on sea level rise.”